The Boyd Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona hosts the Land of the Sun Endurance ride in late February. It is a beautiful desert ride with Saguaros, Mountains, Sandy Washes and the Hassayampa River. This year it had perfect weather as well – cool in the morning and warm by afternoon with clear skies. It is a 2 day ride and many folks either only ride 1 day or ride 2 different horses. Desi, my Missouri Fox Trotter, and I do multi-day rides of usually 4-5 days together. The difference in mindset is quite evident…
This ride was a race – much more competitive spirit. Most horses only rode one day so they didn’t need to hold back and save them for riding the next day.
The first day Desi was ready to go and decided to lead out. One thing about the shorter rides is getting an early lead is usually a good way to go as it is more difficult to make up time. But we got to the river and she paused long enough to have 2 riders catch up with us. Sometimes Desi does this on purpose if she wants company on the ride!) The 3 of us rode together the entire first loop (about 12 miles). After the first big climb I noticed my saddle pad had detached itself from my D rings and was headed out from under my saddle. The other 2 riders were very kind and asked if we should stop so I could fix the situation but I knew the next riders were close behind and we would lose time so I declined. Now I knew it was going to likely fly out from the back of the saddle – and it did at about 5 miles out. Again I was asked if we should stop but thought I’d wait until the water stop which we thought was a mile or so down the trail….
So 5 miles down the trail we came to the water stop and fixed the situation. (Desi at no time acted uncomfortable without the pad or I would have stopped no matter what.) I did realize that if the girth was loose enough to allow the pad to slide out it was even looser without the pad! But again everything went well – though carrying a saddle pad while riding fast and over some rough country was a bit tricky at times! And it gets heavy after awhile. The other riders kindly offered to carry it part-time but it was my issue and I wasn’t going to let it affect them if at all possible.
At the vet check we pulsed down first and one of the other riders decided to slow way down as his mare wasn’t up to the pace we were doing. We taped the saddle pad straps to my D rings so there would be no repeat flying carpet!
My husband and coach, Walt, strongly advised to leave camp fast for psychological and to get a jump on the next rider. Well I tried but when I got to the gate out of the ranch it was blocked by other riders who hadn’t followed proper procedure and were arguing with the volunteers manning that spot. Aarrggghhh!! It may seem small but a couple minutes can make a big difference and it slowed my momentum.
The second rider caught up to me a few miles down the trail but then slowed down. I repeatedly stated we needed to speed up as we were going too slow and there were riders behind us closer than one thinks. Sure enough those riders came galloping up and pushed our pace for us to stay in front. We offered to let them pass but they declined. Until the person I was riding with missed a turn and when she corrected her horse went through prickly pear and got thorns in her leg. She stopped to remove them and I waited with her – we had been riding together for many miles and our horses had bonded so I wasn’t going to leave her while she had to pull thorns out. It didn’t take long and we were back on course. We could see the other riders had slowed way down and we could readily catch up to them… well except for one thing – we missed a crossing and instead made a turn and came to ribbons but I knew we were off course because there weren’t enough hoof prints and we came to earlier trail….
We course corrected but could not overtake the other riders… we finished and Desi pulsed down fast enough that we took 4th place and only a few minutes behind the winner. First place award was a beautiful silver buckle – unusual to have such a nice prize – but we did get a nice top 10 award of a custom glass cutting board.
Takeaways from Day 1:
1. Always check your girth one last time prior to the start of the ride… with Desi I think warm ups will change from riding to lunging as she is more controllable and it will be easier to tighten things up and be good to go. Plus it’s easier for me to see how she’s moving and what her mindset is that day.
2. A different pad set up was needed – Desi’s way of going and this pad were not going to work. So I went home and ordered a new pad that is made to go with our saddle and I had used in the past but worn out.
3. Never take for granted your position – the competition is likely closer than you think and aiming to pass you.
4. Sportsmanship trumps placement always. If you have been riding with another horse for several miles and they need to stop to take care of something ask if their horse is okay with you riding on without them. Some are fine – others can become dangerous if their new buddy leaves them.
5. You are responsible for your path – even if riding behind others be paying attention to trail markings. Many times I have been behind someone that is not paying enough attention to ribbons. Don’t count on the front runner to take the right trail.
6. Course correct quickly – if it doesn’t seem right it probably isn’t. Back track, check the map or check GPS if in doubt.
7. Have fun and enjoy the journey. This is a sport and a hobby, not a job! There is nothing better than spending time with your horse in beautiful country enjoying God’s Creation.
8. Always be riding for the next ride… which is covered in Part 2……